Food for Thought-10 Ways to Master Contemporary Worship Songs and Music

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1. The song should be written in one of three chords-G, C, or D.

2. The song should contain vague, generic lyrics about love, life, hope, and overcoming problems. These lyrics are largely indistinguishable from secular “Adult Contemporary” music, Nicholas Sparks novels, and the dialogue from a romantic comedy.

3. Insert the words, “God” or “Jesus” anywhere into the vague lyrics about life, hope, love, or overcoming problems.

4. Be able to play a guitar while closing your eyes.

5. While closing your eyes, master the art of the breathy, spoken refrain: “Falling before you / forever adore you / always want more of you / doing my chores for you.”

6. Be comfortable saying the same three or four word phrase over and over.

7. Learn how to put more “e’s” in Jesus: Jeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesus

8. You should realize that your desire to be a guitar shredding, microphone hogging rock star can still be realized through contemporary worship music. It is the exact same music with occasional references to God added in for good measure. This means you don’t have to feel guilty about listening to the devil’s music.

9. Learn how to play one hymn in a contemporary style. The congregation will think you’re still grounded in some kind of tradition.

10. Have a very long story (which is really your testimony told multiple ways) to tell before you start each song. This story may or may not relate to the music.

Food for Thought-The Ingredients for a Successful Country Song Circa 2015

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1. Talk about the small town you live in, the wholesome values embodied by this town’s economic decline, and how people who live elsewhere are morally lacking when compared to your town

2. Talk about how you work a typical blue-collar job at a “plant”. Make references to “clocking out” and how at the end of a hard week’s work you feel entitled to a weekend of alcohol consumption and bad decision making

3. Talk about your woman, how she’s hot, wears skimpy clothes for you and enjoys going to a river with you to engage in vaguely implied carnal activity.

4. Talk about how you go to church and belief in God is important to you and how this is the logical extension of your weekend of drinking and vague carnal activity with your scantily clad “honey” down by the river

5. Repeat the four previous points in rapid succession behind an array guitar riffs and background vocals

Food for Thought-Fridays with Francis – Part 2

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There are some words I simply don’t like. Many of these words aren’t profane or crass. They are ordinary words which have come to be associated with negative emotions and destructive actions. One such word is “needy”. For Saint Francis, being needy was a good thing. Living in the world as “pilgrims and strangers” made the early Franciscans more aware of their dependence upon God. Francis wrote, “our Lord made Himself poor in this world.” Yet today, it is far from customary to describe Jesus as needy. If anything we avoid discussions of his poverty. The economic realities of Jesus’ day, virtually identical to those of Saint Francis make us uncomfortable. Despite 18 occurrences of either “the poor” or “poverty” in the Gospels; we don’t see our savior as needy.

If someone is “needy” they require more of our time to attend to their self-perceived needs than we are willing to give. Needy, in this sense, means people who lack a sense of self-awareness and motivation. Infants are needy because they cannot meet their own needs. People become needy because, through cycles of co-dependence, they see themselves as unable to meet their own spiritual, emotional, or physical needs. This is one way middle class 1st world people use the word needy. We have needy girlfriends, boyfriends, spouses, work colleagues or friends. Whether through television or other media, this notion of the needy friend or family member is embedded in our lives. What happens, however, when we use this same term to describe those who are materially, physically, and emotionally impoverished? IMG_2390

The poor become the “needy” and whether we realize it or not, the same feelings of antipathy and frustration we hold toward our “needy” friends are too easily applied to the poor, hungry, and destitute of our communities. Though we find ourselves in church each week and claim to be committed to serving those who Jesus called us serve, using this word opens the door toward creating a church culture which hates the poor while claiming to love Jesus.

When we use the term “needy”, it comes with an underlying idea; the person with the need is somehow unwilling to help themselves. They take and we give, often begrudgingly, of our time and money. This is how we talk about our “needy” friends and relatives. Consider how many of us approach the idea of needy people in much the same manner:

The poor are poor because they choose to be. They could be better off if they only spent their money wiser.

The poor have the opportunity to receive ample government benefits and do not need extra assistance from private individuals.

The poor should be happy with whatever assistance we provide; whether we attach strings to our gifts or not.

The poor shouldn’t question the appropriateness of a gift. They should be grateful for anything.

The poor waste the resources we offer them on illegal activities or unhealthy lifestyles.

These are simply extensions of the same arguments we make when dealing with friends and family members who exhibit “neediness” in their personal or emotional lives. As Christians, the same standards we believe to be valid in a middle class world full of 1st world problems aren’t the ones Jesus applied at any time in his ministry. Jesus doesn’t make decisions about the motivations, apparent resources, or yesterday’s choices made by anyone (poor or not). He simply meets the needs of those he encounters. Jesus doesn’t ask questions about yesterday or today. Jesus acts so the stage may be set for a better tomorrow.

Food for Thought- 5 Hard Questions WE Ask Jesus

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Jesus is always asking questions. We can learn a great deal from examining and asking ourselves these questions. As I look at the “questions of Jesus”, I also notice the questions posed to Jesus by those around him. The disciples, Pharisees, and crowds were constantly questioning Jesus actions and words. The questions Jesus faced in the first century are also the questions we ask Jesus. We want to know, see, and understand what we’re experiencing and feeling. It’s important to us that the world around us makes sense. Everything about Jesus runs contrary to the logic which runs our lives. As a result, questions emerge from deep within our souls. We want to know why. Because if we ask Jesus questions and we see the truth of what he’s saying, everything about how we see the world and our lives has now changed. Asking Jesus questions is integral to a vital faith.

Here are five questions, posed to Jesus in the first two chapters of Mark’s gospel.

1. Mark 1:24 – What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?

What does Jesus want with us, our lives, and priorities?  Is Jesus going to push us out of our comfort zones?

2. Mark 1:36 – Where have you been? Everyone’s looking for you.

Jesus is never where we think he should be. He’s never in the last place we left him. We like to put Jesus in cute little boxes. When we need him to affirm our preconceptions, we pull him out and use him to our advantage.

3. Mark 2:6 – Why does he speak this way? He’s insulting God.

Remember the old Nickelodeon show, “You Can’t Do That on Television”? Jesus was always doing things people “just don’t do” in polite society. He said things that everyone thought but were to fearful to utter in public. We think we know better than God. We have a better idea about what bothers God than God does. Listen to religious radio or television and you’ll hear people who know they know what offends God. What this question actually says is, “our carefully crafted version of God has been insulted”.

4. Mark 2:18 – Why do John’s disciples and the Pharisees fast but yours do not?

Jesus, should we take our religious beliefs to some extreme, as we see others doing? Are we less devoted because we don’t do things everyone else can see and usually call “holy”?

5. Mark 2:24 – Why are they breaking the Sabbath laws?

Why do the dictates of old school, hard core, fire and brimstone religion not matter to your people? Jesus is about people having faith in God. If the religious rules, established by the religious professionals, get in the way of people being fully human, then forget your rules.

Food for Thought-Reading Between the Light, Looking at the Theology of an Illuminated Devotion

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I am fascinated by devotional books. Some of the oldest devotionals in the western Christian tradition were known as “Books of Hours”. Usually smaller than most books, they were exquisitely decorated with illustrations of scriptural scenes, depictions of the Virgin Mary, and art outlining the understanding and insights of medieval theology. If you see an illuminated manuscript these days, it’s probably taken from a Book of Hours.

There is a page from a mid 14th century Book of Hours which always catches my eye. It’s a depiction of the universe and all things between heaven and earth. What makes this illustration unique (particularly for this time in history) is how the artist conveyed Earth’s relationship to heaven. Earth is portrayed at the lowest and darkest point of the universe. At the top of the page, light from heaven, light from beyond our universe, streams down to illuminate the earth below. Earth isn’t the light filled center of the pre-Copernican universe. Languishing in layers of distorted darkness, light comes to the whole of creation from the epicenter of heaven. Somewhere in the Middle Ages someone wanted to be reminded that God’s light shines on everyone and that humanity’s relationship to God is one bathed in light, hope, and love.

Food for Thought-10 Warning Signs You Might Have Wandered Into a Place That Claims To Be A Church

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If Their Vision of Christianity Involves:

1. Tearing down other religions in order to feel secure as a Christian

2. Believing your faith (personally and collectively) is constantly under attack

3. Spending more time talking about eternity than what Jesus calls us to do today

4. Focusing on a personal relationship with Jesus so much so it means you never ask how that relationship alters your perspective on the call to love those who are radically different from you

5. Talking to God more than listening to God

6. Hearing more sermons about obeying God’s rules than calls to embody God’s love

7. Reading yourself into every parable as the “good guy” and seeing everyone else around as those who don’t get it

8. Insisting that God’s grace is only offered to those who say the right words, pray the right prayer, and worship how you worship

9. Repeating the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” because you think it makes you sound less judgmental

10. Interpreting scripture with no respect to tradition, reason, or human experience

What can you do? Live fully, love wastefully-like Jesus.